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What Are Common Symptoms of Parkinson's?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a movement disorder. It is a chronic (long-term) condition that gets worse over time.1

In people with PD, the brain cells (neurons) that make dopamine die. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that helps different areas of the brain communicate. Dopamine has a key role in the part of the brain that controls movements.1

As the neurons die and the brain has less and less dopamine, this causes the symptoms of PD. Scientists do not yet know why PD develops in some people. They believe it may be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.2

PD is typically diagnosed more often in men than women. Symptoms usually begin when someone is around 60 years old. It can be hard to diagnose. There is no cure, but therapies can help manage symptoms.2

Primary motor symptoms

PD mainly affects movement. The 4 most common motor symptoms of PD include:1-5

  • Tremor at rest, such as a tremor in a finger, hand, or foot
  • Rigidity (stiffness) of limbs, neck, or shoulder
  • Impaired balance when standing up (postural instability), which can lead to falls
  • Slowness of movement or gradual loss of movement (bradykinesia), such as slower walking, a lessening of arm swinging when walking, decreased blinking, or slower facial expressions

Symptoms typically begin on 1 side of the body. Over time, both sides become affected. Not everyone will develop all 4 primary motor symptoms. However, bradykinesia affects nearly everyone who has PD.3

Secondary motor symptoms

Along with the 4 primary motor symptoms, people with PD may have other motor symptoms, including:1-5

  • Walking issues – May include short, rapid steps (festination), shuffling of the feet
  • Freezing – Looks like someone is stuck in motion, especially when taking a step, turning, or moving through obstacles
  • Cramping – Muscles may stay in a contracted position and cause pain
  • Masked face (hypomimia) – An expressionless face
  • Speech issues – May include slurred speech, abnormally long pauses, hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) –Swallowing issues can also cause drooling or excess saliva
  • Vision and eye problems – May include blurred vision, decreased blinking, inability to focus on objects
  • Impaired fine motor dexterity – May include difficulty with precise hand and finger movement, such as fastening buttons, and shrunken or cramped handwriting (micrographia)
  • Sudden, involuntary muscle movements (myoclonus) – May include jerks, shakes, twitches, spasms
  • Stooped posture – May include rounded shoulders, forward lean of the body, down-turned head, curvature of the spine (scoliosis, kyphosis)

Non-motor symptoms

There are other symptoms of PD that are not directly related to movement issues. These symptoms may be the first sign of PD, even before the more well-known motor symptoms.1-3,5Non-motor symptoms are sometimes called "invisible symptoms" because they cannot be seen. Some non-motor symptoms affect the involuntary (autonomic) functions our bodies perform, such as bowel movements and blood pressure. Others can affect how people think and feel.1-3,5

Not every person with PD will have the same non-motor or motor symptoms. They may also be more severe in some people and less severe in others. Examples of non-motor symptoms include:1-3,5

  • Fatigue – Excessive tiredness that is not relieved with sleep
  • Digestive problems – May include constipation, nausea, bloating
  • Urinary issues – May include frequent urination, incontinence, difficulty emptying the bladder
  • Sleep issues – May include difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia), restless legs
  • syndrome, and acting out dreams (REM sleep behavior disorder)

  • Low blood pressure – Decrease in blood pressure when rising to a standing position (orthostatic hypotension)
  • Skin changes – May include oily or dry skin, excessive sweating
  • Pain – May include pain in certain parts of the body or all over
  • Smell loss – Decreased ability to detect odors (hyposmia)
  • Altered moods – May include lack of motivation and interest in activities (apathy), depression, and anxiety
  • Cognitive dysfunction – May include difficulty with attention and focus, memory, executive function (planning and organizing), and language (finding the right words)
  • Psychosis – May include hallucinations, paranoia, delusions

Treatment options

There is currently no known cure for PD. However, there are treatments that can help manage both motor and non-motor symptoms. The goal of treatment is to control symptoms as best as possible to improve quality of life.1,2

Treatment options include:

  • Medicines
  • Surgery
  • Complementary and alternative treatments

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